A/N: Ok guys, this is it. The final of the final chapters. Hope you enjoy it.
Her eyes stung and her throat hurt from the unshed tears it took all her efforts to stifle. She would not cry here at work no matter how hard it was not to and no matter how much she felt she had to. She'd done that once before, unable to help herself, and though some co-workers had given her sympathetic looks, some even a listening ear, it hadn't boded well for her with the head honchos of the company. Not that she'd been trying to find favor with them by crying—that was never her goal or her style—but they'd treated her like she had no business to be there if she was going to be so weak and couldn't keep her emotions in check. It was possible she'd taken their cold attitudes the wrong way, but she really didn't think so. In her experience thus far, the music industry was a tough, hard business with no room for weakness or unpredictable and volatile emotions.
To some degree, she agreed with that, but for the most part, she was opposed to the whole closed-door policy they had there. Unless you were in a high position in the company, your ideas, whether good or bad, went ignored. And when they didn't get ignored, they definitely went uncreditted while someone—a higher up, of course—took credit and reaped the glory.
For that reason, most employees kept their mouths shut, letting their ideas—some very good ideas, Peyton thought—be kept to themselves. What a better workplace this would be if employees felt welcome to share their ideas for improvement for the record company and for artists they represented. They could be top notch if Amy at reception, or Tommy in the mailroom were given a voice to speak their ideas. When she opened her own recording studio, she swore she would take both Amy and Tommy, and a few others whose skills and knowledge had gone unappreciated, with her.
Yes, she'd made a few friends at this place. Friends she could vent to and with who understood all the stresses of both the music industry, and how their ideas could change everything if only they were heard.
There would be room for growth in her music studio. Amy wouldn't have to stay at reception if she didn't want to, but on the other hand, she could if she did want to. She was very good at it—her people skills far exceeded Peyton's. Qualified people could move up as positions opened up, or could stay in their current positions should they prefer that. Nobody would be forced to climb a ladder unless their own ambition called them to do so, and no one qualified would be stuck in a lower position for years on end, as she and several others had been. Either way, somehow, from mailroom clerk to the highest executive, everyone would be heard, every good idea implemented, and the right person given the credit.
That was how she would run her music studio. Fairly. And that was just the inter-office stuff. The artists, well that would change too. She would get real, talented musicians focused on the music. Not just ones they could make a quick buck from before they slid back into drugs or alcohol or whatever the case may be, taking their music careers down with them.
No, she would have genuine artists; those whose music touched their souls as it did hers, even if she had to search every dive bar across the world to hand pick them herself. She could do it. She would do it. It was just a matter of time. She would have to be patient—not her strongest suit at the best of times—but she had no choice. For the time being, she had to bite her tongue and rake in the paycheck they desperately needed. Right now she had to deal with a belly so swollen she hadn't seen her feet in months, and with the job she grew to hate more and more with each passing day, but couldn't afford to lose.
Absently, she rubbed her belly where the baby was kicking. She only had 4 weeks left until her due date, and she was worried more now than ever. Over the summer months, Nathan had taken a full-time job pumping gas. It wasn't the most prestigious position, but Nathan hadn't minded nor ever complained of it. The pay wasn't great, but it was something that he could get with his skill level. He liked his boss well enough and the extra income had come in handy. They managed to furnish the nursery—actually just a little corner of their room—with the double income they'd earned, and they'd even saved a little too.
And aside from Peyton's hormonal ups and downs, they'd gotten along better than they ever had. She suspected it was because he bit his tongue much of the times that she snapped, and he soothed her when she cried. She'd never been more in love with him than this past summer, and she'd truly felt like they would really make it, as a couple, and as young parents.
But things had quickly changed when he went back to school for his third year. He'd decided to stay on part time at the gas station despite her attempts to talk him out of it. It had seemed important to him to help with the unavoidable finances part of living on their own, so finally, she'd let it go and let him have his way. There was no use trying to win against male pride. She knew he already felt bad that he couldn't provide for her well enough to allow her to quit her job, so she'd left it alone.
And it turned out just as she'd predicted it would. Working, keeping up with basketball, and struggling with the most difficult and challenging course load so far was too much for him. He insisted that it wasn't. That he was handling it fine. But he wasn't fine. Only a month into his third year and he was frustrated, overwhelmed, and incredibly short-tempered. Well, more so than he usually was, and anytime she tried to bring it up, he got even angrier.
So, for Peyton right now, work was hell and home was hell too. She felt that if she never heard another curt 'not now' it would be too soon. She was the pregnant one. She should be the grumpy one while he patiently tolerated her mood swings for putting her in the position of being too big to see her toes, too big to sit comfortably, to bend, to sleep, to...everything.
Then again, she knew he did tolerate it for the most part. She could gripe—could she ever—and he'd learned to ignore. But that made it worse because she didn't want her plight being ignored, especially by the one responsible for it.
And then she'd start to think, as she was thinking now, that maybe he was moody because he'd had enough of her constant complaining. Certainly there was no pleasing her lately. He couldn't make her backache go away no matter the hours he spent rubbing it.
She was too hard on him, she worried. How could she expect to nitpick at him and he never reach his breaking point? No guy would want to put up with her as Nathan was barely putting up with her. He was struggling with everything and she just made things harder for him. He must be so sick of her. If she were gentle and loving and understanding, then maybe he would be too.
Except she didn't feel very gentle or loving or understanding these days, and clearly Nathan didn't either.
It took her mind a minute to realize her boss was standing over her, speaking to her...well, yelling at her. He did enjoy humiliating his employees. She'd tune him out if she could, but the very last thing she needed right now was to get fired. She only had a few more weeks to go. She could deal with John until then.
Her pregnancy hadn't made him go any easier on her even though he claimed it did. To him, giving her a sit-down position was going easy on her. Maybe he really thought that. He was, after all, a bachelor. He may not even realize that being on your feet wasn't the only possible stress factor a pregnant woman could face.
Or maybe he did know but was just a pompous ass who enjoyed stuffing her in her little corner where he clearly thought she belonged.
The truth was, and Peyton didn't know this because he didn't dare show it less it somehow diminished his power, but John actually admired her will and determination to learn and succeed. He just didn't think that was enough to make it in the music industry, and that much he did tell her at every opportunity.
"Yes John, what is it?" she asked more than a little shortly. She couldn't help it.
"Those budget reports you did yesterday were all wrong," he told her.
All wrong? She'd spent hours upon hours on them yesterday, first just figuring out how to do them because nobody had shown her, and then actually doing them as she thought they were to be done. It wasn't surprising they were wrong, but it was disheartening after so much unenthusiastic effort put into it. One thing she did learn was how much money had come in and out last month. It came as a surprise to her to see they hadn't profited a dime last month and were actually in the negatives. That was assuming, of course, that she knew what she was doing, which apparently she didn't.
She looked up to meet her boss' accusing glare and shrugged her small, tired shoulders. "Well, I'm not an accountant," she said evenly with an obviously fake smile. What did he expect? Crunching numbers was not her thing and certainly not part of her job description. Nor had she ever prepared for it to be. It clearly wasn't where her strength lay, though she admitted to herself she should learn more about it before she set up business on her own. She didn't want her music studio tanking, that was for sure. Just another worry for her mind to dwell upon, she thought.
"Well, you're not a music producer either," he spat in return. "Do them again, and do them right this time," he added before walking away.
"Tell him to go screw himself," she heard a male voice mutter beside her.
She looked up to see the friendly face of Julian Baker. He was part of the camera and sound crew when artists created their music videos. She wasn't sure what he did when they weren't shooting videos, but she supposed that never happened. He was hired from an outside source and shot videos for other music videos too, and Peyton thought he did an amazing job. The studio must think so too since they stuck with him at all times, only hiring another when he was unavailable. He would definitely be her go-to guy when she had her own studio. It didn't even matter what he cost because his work spoke for itself. The fact he was such a nice guy, friendly and easygoing, was a bonus.
She offered him a small, shaky smile. The fact he'd go out of his way to make a stranger—well, practically a stranger—feel better said so much more about his character. But he didn't get Peyton's plight or how badly she wanted to take his advice if only she didn't need this job so badly. If she worked right up until her due date and came back early from pregnancy leave, they just might be able to scrape by financially. In other words, she was stuck, and there was nothing to do about it but just accept it.
"Wish I could," was all she said aloud.
Julian smiled back. "You know this place is gonna go under someday," he said. "These people don't know their heads from their asses," he added. He'd been around enough music studios to recognize the mismanaged ones. "Don't go down with them," he advised softly before he too walked away, leaving her stumped.
Was he telling her to walk out? She couldn't do that no matter how good the advice was. But it did give her a sense of satisfaction that others recognized this studio's shortcomings too, that it wasn't just her, who had minimal experience and went mostly by gut instinct, but also someone like Julian who'd been around the business much longer.
Her smile quickly faded. If this place truly was destined to fail, then there went her job security. Like she didn't have enough to worry about as it was.
The woman at the bakery gave the smug young man a curious look. She recognized him as the kid who pumped her gas at least once a week, just down the street from her bakery. He did a good job, she thought. Quick and efficient, and he was polite enough for the most part, though not over the top friendly. But she didn't mind that, and actually preferred it. She went there to get gas, not to engage in conversation with the attendant. And really, what gas bar attendant would be overjoyed to be at work?
But now this same young man had a mixture of excitement and mischief in his deep blue eyes. She recognized the look well from her own three sons.
He'd come in and ordered a cake, not so unusual for a bakery. She'd assumed he was celebrating something, a birthday or graduation maybe, but when she'd asked him as much he'd revealed that he was celebrating, definitely celebrating, but not for either of her two guesses. She'd curiously prodded about the special occasion, but he refused to tell her anything, stating he wanted his wife to be the first one he told.
Wife? He looked awfully young to have one of those, but she bit back a remark about it as it was not her habit to pry into her customers' private lives, no matter how curious she was.
Though the cake he ordered wasn't so unusual, the inscription he'd chosen for its top was, and it was that part that brought out the mischief she read in him. The words he requested didn't coincide with a happy occasion, and it was the first request of such that she'd seen in all her thirty odd years running her bakery. She gave him a skeptical look. Surely she'd heard wrong. "Are you sure you wouldn't want something else written on the cake?" she asked him after clarifying that she hadn't misheard.
"I'm sure," he insisted, noting the look of disapproval on the woman's face. But no matter. She didn't have to approve. Nobody had to approve. The only opinion that mattered was Peyton's and he knew she wouldn't have a problem with it. "I'm sure," he repeated when the woman stood there looking at him as though he must be joking and he would change his mind at any moment.
But it was no joke. In his mind, what had happened today couldn't have come at a better time—it could have come much sooner as far as he was concerned—and this was just something else that needed to happen. The cake, the writing on it, well that was just what it was—the icing on the cake. It was well deserved and a long time coming.
She wanted to cry. Again. She'd figured out the numbers, but exactly as they'd been the first time she'd done the budget. John had said it was wrong this morning, but if that were true, then she didn't know what was right. As she'd said earlier, she wasn't an accountant, but she couldn't change the numbers that were there in black and white. Either she'd made the same mistake again or the company, as Julian had stated earlier, was in serious trouble. Either way she couldn't hand it in. Neither scenario would please her bosses, and even though the latter wouldn't be her fault, John would take it out on her all the same.
She bit down hard on her lower lip to keep the tears from spilling. She truly hoped she'd done it wrong, otherwise her job was at risk, and if she lost it, she didn't know what they would do. Nathan couldn't work any more hours than he already was. It was affecting his schooling and basketball as it was. He couldn't take more on.
She knew she should stop stressing. It wasn't good for the baby to worry so, but she couldn't help it. Financial difficulties were already causing a strain on her relationship with her husband. She wasn't sure they would survive more.
He would want to turn to his parents for help, and they may have to, but she hated the idea, and he hated how much she hated it. In his eyes, they didn't need to struggle for every penny. He didn't get it because money had always just been there for him as he'd grown up, easily accessible. The struggle for financial independence got to him, especially knowing that if he'd just ask his parents, they'd give it to him. Well, his mom would give it to him. His dad had, on more than one occasion, refused a "loan", saying if he wanted to be married and independent, then be married and independent.
Peyton was of that same mind frame. She wanted them to make it on their own, no matter how hard it got, not run to parents all the time. She would bow down and let Nathan ask them if they were in a dire situation, like if they couldn't pay their rent or were out of food and all her efforts to shuffle money around were exhausted. But Nathan, he wanted to go to them if they ran out of money for a case of beer one weekend.
He called her refusal to get help a "pride thing", and he was probably right, but luckily he saw how important it was to her and let her have her way on that particular topic without too much of a fight. He wasn't thrilled about it though. He wanted back that life of comfort and ease he'd always known. She couldn't blame him. She would love that life too. She just wanted her and Nathan to achieve that goal on their own.
But again, Nathan wasn't happy about it. He wasn't happy about much these days and, really, neither was she. At one time they could release all their frustrations with each other and life in general by either fighting or having sex. A lot of it. Maybe that wasn't healthy, but that's what they did and it had always worked for them. But now they just fought. Now she was big and uncomfortable, and certainly not feeling sexy enough to seduce her very sexy and virile husband, nor respond to his advances, which, to her surprise, still came rather frequently. She looked at herself in all directions in the mirror and wondered how he could possibly still want to have sex with her. But he did. He still wanted her—all the time.
Except maybe until last week when she'd given in to him and it had been so uncomfortable, painful even, for her that he'd pulled out and hadn't made a move since. He said it was because he didn't want to hurt her, which she believed was true, but she also believed he was turned off by the experience. He insisted that wasn't it at all, but she couldn't quite make herself believe that.
As though her mind had somehow conjured him up, she lifted her head to see his smiling face walking toward her. It was nice to see that smile—they didn't have much to smile about lately—and she wondered what had put him in such a good mood. And what he was carrying.
But most of all, she wondered what he was doing there at her work. The last time he'd shown up unexpectedly during work hours, she'd gotten major grief from her boss for using personal time while on the clock. Nathan knew about that time so she couldn't help feeling a bit put off with him for putting her in that same position again. Nathan knew better. He knew how humiliated she'd been to be screamed at by her employer in front of everyone who happened to be standing by.
She stood up with great difficulty, her expression sour and her tone hard when she spoke. "What are you doing here? You have to go, like right now. I mean it."
His grin only grew and he continued toward her until he was standing just inches away, which pissed her off all the more. "I love you too," he teased, raising her irritation level a notch higher.
"Nathan, you can't be here, ok. You already know this so...go. I'll see you at home."
"Don't you wanna know why I'm here?" he pressed. "Or what's in the box?"
She did, but she didn't have time for this. John could pop up at any moment looking for those budget reports, and she didn't fancy getting yelled at again. "It doesn't matter," she said. "You need to go before John sees you. You know what happened last time."
"Yeah, he showed what a jackass he is."
"Yes, and I don't want a repeat so go and I'll see you at home."
Instead of following her direct order, he pushed the box toward her. "Open it."
She rolled her eyes in annoyance. "Clearly it's a cake," she said caustically. "Your grand gesture for an apology that we can't even afford, so excuse me if I'm not jumping for joy. Go home, Nathan. We'll talk there and...eat cake...later."
Stubbornly, he shook his head. "Open the box, Peyton," he urged, the tiniest hint of impatience creeping into his tone.
She sighed, her own impatience much stronger. "And then you'll go?" she asked, far from nicely.
"Then I'll go," he agreed, a smirk replacing the small frown that had been there seconds ago.
'Well, of course he's smirking,' Peyton thought irritably. He got his damn way, stubborn jackass. "Fine," she snapped crossly, snatching the box from him and tossing it down none too gently on her desk.
"Careful," Nathan warned.
"You're seriously worried about the box?"
"Just open it."
She did. She grabbed the lid and shoved it upward, letting it fall behind the box as Nathan watched her expectantly.
The last thing he expected was for her to burst into tears, but that's what she did. Maybe they were happy tears, he reasoned silently. Girls did that. Peyton specifically did that.
But he quickly discovered his mistake in logic. She wasn't happy. Not at all. Nor was she angry anymore. She was just—well, he wasn't quite sure what she was. No, he knew what she was. She was upset. He just couldn't fathom why. "Babe...," he began.
She cut him off with her broken sobs. "I knew it," she cried. "I knew this day would come when you got sick of me. I'm too bitchy, I know. I never saw it coming like this, here at my work, but I knew you were getting tired of me. But we're married now, Nathan. You can't just walk away so easily anymore. And I'm pregnant. What about the baby? Nate, we can talk about this, ok? I can try to change. Be less of a bitch. I can. I know I can. But you can't just leave. We can work things out if only you..."
Tears spilling down her cheeks despite her surroundings, she stopped mid-plea when she noticed he was shaking his head and grinning.
Grinning! Her world was falling apart, she was devastated, and he stood there gleefully like getting rid of her was the best thing he'd ever done. "And you're laughing," she said hotly, forgetting that she'd just promised him to be less bitchy. "This might be funny to you, but you don't have to show it so much. You find my meltdown amusing?" she pressed further when his smile didn't fade.
"Kinda yeah," he freely admitted, realizing now where her mind had gone. That she'd misconstrued his intentions and assumed this was all meant for her. "Especially that you actually think I could ever leave you. I thought you knew better than that by now." Like, he'd told her before, of their multiple breakups, only once had he been the one doing the breaking up, and he was never doing it again. He hadn't changed his mind about that, no matter how hormonal and bitchy she got.
She looked from Nathan to the cake and then again to Nathan back to the cake. Damn but her husband was confusing. His purpose for dropping in on her at work was obvious by the writing on the cake. It was all there in black and white. Okay, in blue frosting, but that wasn't the point. The point was she thought it said it all, but apparently she'd missed the point completely.
"So you're not here to say goodbye?" she questioned just to clarify.
He chuckled lightly. "Of course not, you dork."
A sigh of relief escaped her lips, feeling much better all around. Still, her brows creased in confusion. "Then, what's the 'fuck you, you suck' about?" she asked, reading the words on the cake aloud.
His grin spread. God, she loved that smile. She'd missed it. "I was gonna have it say, 'Fuck you. Take this job and shove it right up your ass cause you suck and my label's gonna demolish yours' but there wasn't room for all that so I had to shorten it a bit," he explained in all seriousness.
She laughed now too, but was still stumped.
"If it's not obvious," he said to her, "it's a cake from you to your boss. It's time for you to leave this place, Peyt," he went on. "We've talked about this day. I just embellished your departure a little cause I thought it'd be fun."
What he was saying, or rather wasn't saying hit her, and her eyes widened, a smile crossing her lips. "You made it to the NBA?" she asked, just in case her assumption was wrong. Obviously it wouldn't be the first time she jumped to a wrong conclusion.
But she knew she was right before he even said the words. The smile that broke out on his handsome face and the sparkle that lit up those gorgeous blue eyes of his answered her question without a single doubt.
Even so, he said the words. "I made it to the NBA. Coach just told me this morning. Apparently the recruiters were impressed."
"Of course they were," she boasted for him. "Cause my man's got game," she added before jumping in his arms, a task made difficult by the size of her tummy. "Oh, Nathan, I'm so proud of you."
He'd never get tired of hearing those words from her, even though she repeated them so very often. He vaguely wondered if his father would finally be proud of him too. "I guess they weren't watching the last couple games," he said to her.
"Probably not," she agreed. Even she had to admit, at least to herself, that he'd played horribly the last two to three games. She knew he'd been kicking himself for it and worried the scouts would pass him by because of it, worried that those few games had blown his chances for him. "Or if they were, they get that even the best players have off days. Oh my God," she burst out, giving him another hug. "I'm so happy for you! You did it!"
"We did it," he corrected.
She stepped back and shook her head. "Now is not the time to get bashful," she told him. "Dude, don't give your thunder away. The credit is yours. It was all you. I just came along for the ride."
She was partially right. The work he'd put into it was all him, indeed. But her support, hell, not even necessarily her support, but her presence was what kept him motivated. "You're right. It was all me," he bragged. "But I'm glad you came along for the ride. That one and all other rides," he added with quirking eyebrows and a boyish grin.
Her own brows lifted. "Since you're gonna be a big NBA star now, I'll let it pass what a dirty pig you can be."
"You love it," he teased back.
He was right. She did love it. Because when he wanted to, he could so easily make her feel like the sexiest woman in the world even though most days, as she grew and continued to grow, she felt like a giant whale. His easy flirty banter could still make her knees buckle and make her feel so incredibly sensuous.
It was in that moment that her boss came in, a definite threat to her feeling of elation. At least it would be under any other circumstance.
John would soon discover though that her mood would not be so easily quashed, just as he would soon discover—maybe not as soon, but soon—that she could take all she had learned here—and she had to admit she'd learned a lot about what works and what doesn't—and create a label that far surpassed the cold and detached label he ran here.
"I assume those numbers are all figured out if you're taking personal time while still on the clock," John stated in a tone that generally made Peyton want to slap his face.
But not this time. At least not a physical slap. She could feel Nathan tense in anger.
Nathan itched to punch the guy, but when he saw the fire in his wife's wide green eyes as she pulled back from him, he held back. It would be at least as much fun to watch her put this jackass in his place than punching him. And then he wouldn't have another assault charge to worry about. He stood back, a smirk on his face as he waited for the fireworks so often directed at him.
She faced her boss with a calm, strained smile, one Nathan recognized to be far worse and disconcerting than her fits of temper, and he could barely contain his mirth at the entertainment he knew was coming. Well, entertainment for him, not so much for her boss. That guy was about to feel three inches tall. Nathan couldn't wait.
"It's not done, John," she said coolly. "It was done, but the numbers didn't suit you so now it's not done. Except it is, but you can't face the fact that your label's at a deficit. How you expected to have made a profit this year is beyond me. I used to think you had good business sense if not a glowing personality, but I changed my opinion somewhere around my first month here almost two years ago. Now I know you're just an idiot who doesn't know his head from his ass and doesn't realize his company's in a hole no matter who or how many times we go over the numbers..."
Livid, John opened his mouth to speak—to tell her she was fired most likely—but Peyton held up her hand to effectively cut off any comment he was about to make. "I'm not done," she told him. "The worst part is that you're such the idiot that you don't even see why you're in a hole. Instead of trying to fix the actual problem, you take the accounting records away from the experts in the accounting department who actually know what they're doing, and give them to a music producer who knows next to nothing about accounting to fix a mistake you're positive they made when really the figures were right all along. You don't even see how stupid that makes you look. You treat people like crap, John, employees and artists alike, ant that's why people quit or don't try as hard. That's why the numbers are dwindling."
Nathan snickered beside her as the other man's face went red with rage. Seriously, he'd never seen someone go to such a deep shade of red, or even think it was possible.
"I think it goes without saying that you're fired," the man stammered hotly.
"Oh, she's way ahead of you," Nathan couldn't help interjecting, even though she was actually only ahead of him by a few minutes. "Give him the cake, babe," he urged before turning back to John. "I think it'll go without saying that she quits," he had to add.
She shoved the box of cake at him. "Good luck finding my replacement," she said and then grabbed Nathan's hand and stalked out, feeling more exuberant than angry. God, it felt good to put that jerk in his place.
She didn't turn around, but plans to bring about her own record label and kicking ass were already formulating in her mind. It was possible now.
Nathan did look back. He'd gone through all the trouble of getting the cake and having it topped just right, and he wasn't going to miss the best part of it—seeing the guy's expression. He grinned boyishly when the man's face looked ready to explode. Totally worth all his efforts to see that immediately after being told off from an employee whom he's lucky couldn't afford to walk out a long time ago.
"Baby, that was hot," Nathan told her once they were outside and heading toward the parking lot.
She rolled her eyes playfully. Of course he thought so. "Can't believe you still say I'm hot," she returned, half joking, half serious.
"Why wouldn't I?" he questioned.
She chuckled lightly. "Because I look like a fricking baboon," she replied.
"Sexiest baboon I've ever seen," he came back with.
She chuckled again and shook her head. "Not exactly a compliment, but I'll take."
"What?" he asked cluelessly. It was totally a compliment. At least, he'd meant it as one. But he understood, well not so much understood as recognized her feelings of feeling fat. According to his dad and his uncle Cooper, it was a common emotion for pregnant women to have, and it was his job as husband and father to make her feel sexy despite the weight gain. It wasn't such a hard task since he actually did still find her sexy as hell.
Convincing her of it was the hard part. What, really, could he say? That she wasn't getting bigger? No. All he could do was let her know she still turned him on. "You're pregnant, Peyt," he said. "If you weren't gaining weight, I'd be worried and so would you."
"Yeah," she conceded. "So, you really thought that was hot, huh?"
He flashed her a smile. "I'd take you in the back seat right now if you'd let me."
"Who said I wouldn't let you?"
His loins already stirring, like they always did when she got flirty with him, he turned his head toward her. She wouldn't fit in his backseat right now, but he was smart enough not to point that out. He had to laugh though when she said it instead, mostly because she was laughing about it.
"So, what's the plan?" she asked.
"Yeah. You come in and whisk me away from my horrible job like some knight in shining armour, which I love, by the way, but to do what?"
"Just to get you outta there," he answered seriously. "You hated it there and I'm sorry we couldn't afford for you to leave sooner."
"Well, I'm sorry you didn't buy that cake for us," she returned, preferring to hold on to the lightheartedness of the past few minutes. "It looked delicious."
Taking her cue, he nodded. "It did, didn't it?"
"Uh huh. Obviously you didn't bake it yourself."
"Hey, is that any way to talk to the husband who just whisked you away?"
"You mean my NBA player husband?"
"You got more than one?"
"Husband or NBA player?"
"Aww, I'm sorry, baby," she teased. "You know I only have eyes for you."
"You better. It's not everyone I would whisk away, you know."
Her eyelashes fluttering, she answered. "I'm so privileged. And now you're gonna let me open my own record label, right?"
He made a face. "No."
"No?" she repeated in question, taken aback by the sudden sharpness in his tone. "I thought you supported that dream."
"I do support it," he replied. "But that's what it is, Peyton. Supporting you, not letting you."
Oh, he'd been put off by her word choice. "And thank you for that, Nate," she began. "But, reality is, it's your fortune we'll be living off of. Your NBA salary, your trust fund. So it's only fair that you get first and final say over where we spend that money."
"Stop it," he said as angrily as he always did when she said things like that. He seriously couldn't believe she still felt that way. "Everything that's mine is yours, including any fortune I make, and you'll have as much say as I do where it's spent. You know, most women wouldn't complain about this."
"I'm not most women and I'm not complaining. I'm just not used to having more money than I know what to do with."
"Well, get used to it," he answered sternly. "Cause that's how it's gonna be from now on."
She acknowledged it was something she would have to work on. "You wanna help me pick out a studio?" she asked in an attempt to lighten the mood again.
"Why?" he asked suspiciously, his mood not so easily turned around. "Cause you want me to tell you which one you can get?"
"No," she replied, her own temper rising slightly. "So I can get your input. Or am I not allowed to value my husband's opinions anymore?"
"Are you picking a fight right now?"
"No, but you just were."
"Neither was I. So? Help with the studio, yes or no? I'd love for us to do it together," she said earnestly. "Picking it out, that is," she added. "Not filling it, cause let's face it, drawing is the only thing you suck more at than cooking."
He chuckled at that. "True," he admitted needlessly as he threw an arm over her shoulder. "Ok, let's check out what's for sale then."
She smiled and nodded, her blonde curls bouncing with the gesture. "Ok, meet you at home," she said since they each had their own vehicles. "I'll set up the laptop and maybe you can grab snacks?"
He nodded in return. "Better yet, I'll stop by the bakery and get another cake."
"Ohhh, that is better," she agreed, her eyes lighting up. "Ok, chop, chop. I'm starving."
"You're always starving."
"Well, baby wants cake," she returned. "And if baby ain't happy, mama ain't happy."
He chuckled at her quirkiness, knowing it was Mama who wanted cake, and they kept walking until they reached their vehicles.
He drove right behind her, the bakery past their apartment on the other end of town so it would be a little while before he had to turn off.
His brows creased as she suddenly pulled off to the curb and turned off the ignition. Pulling in behind her, he cursed her damn comet. It was always giving her trouble and breaking down. He didn't know why she was so attached to it. He would have traded it in a long time ago and couldn't grasp why she didn't.
He stepped out of his own car when she remained still in hers. "What's up?" he asked, reaching her car in just a few long strides.
"Change of plans," she said as calmly as could be. "I think my water just broke."
His eyes widened. What? "You think?"
"Well, it's either that or I peed my pants, which I haven't done since I was three."
"But it's too soon," he argued anxiously. "You still have a month."
"Apparently I don't," she returned sarcastically.
How she could stay calm and make jokes, he didn't know. He himself felt his heart beating erratically to the point that it actually hurt, and he was finding it hard to draw a breath. His palms grew sweaty and his hands started to shake.
He pulled out his cell phone, nearly dropping it twice.
"What are you doing?" she asked as she stepped out of her car.
"Calling 911," he responded earnestly. If he could get his damn hands steady, that is.
Instead the phone was yanked from his grasp. Not that he had such a hard grip on it. "Don't be stupid," she told him.
"Nathan. 911 is for an emergency, and this definitely does not qualify as an emergency."
He couldn't agree less. "I don't know," he argued, grabbing his chest. "I'm pretty sure I'm having a heart attack."
She rolled her eyes in amusement. "More like a panic attack," she countered. "But relax. You're about to become a daddy."
He vaguely thought those two sentences didn't belong together. Becoming a daddy was exactly the reason he couldn't relax. "Yeah, not helping," he told her. "Got anything else?"
"Women go through this every day?" she tried.
He shook his head, but it did hit him that he should be keeping her calm, not the other way around.
"It's ok," she replied when he said as much. "I've been warned to expect this."
"Your water breaking?" he asked.
"No, my man freaking out because of it," she laughed. "Apparently it's fairly common."
"Good to know," he said flatly.
"Ok, so here's what you're gonna do," she began, and he listened intently, perfectly happy to let her take the reins on this one. "You're gonna take a deep breath and then help me to your car. Then you're gonna drive home so we can pack a bag and when the contractions come, you're gonna time them. In between contractions, you're gonna call Brooke and our parents and let them know the baby's coming soon. And then, when the contractions start getting closer together, you're gonna drive me to the hospital and hold my hand while I have this kid. After that, you're gonna get a ride with someone and come back here to get my car and bring it home. And then..."
He let her go on, her soft and reasonable tone helping to calm his nerves. He would do exactly what she said, just as soon as he stopped shaking.
"Congratulations," the doctor said twenty-seven and a half hours later. "It's a..."
A/N: That's it! I'll let you guys decide what they had (maybe go back and fill it in by majority...lol). Anyway, thanks again for reading. It's been an honor and a privilege to be able to write this for you guys (and for myself lol). I'll definitely miss writing this. Thank you and take care.